There is so much to say about American writer Octavia Butler and her extraordinary books. Parable of the Sower(1993) was my first experience with her writing. It’s brutally honest portrayal of a post apocalyptic America was unlike any other sci-fi novel I had read so far. The main character is a strong young woman of color whose need to escape the temporary safety of her family’s walled enclave into to the unknown with her own religion whose central principal is “God is Change”. I have since gone through 7 of her books, 4 of which from the Xenogenisis Series dealing with what ‘alien’ means and and the human need to dominate others.
Octavia Butler described herself as an outsider, and “a pessimist, a feminist always, a Black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist, and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.”
Her incredible point of view, humor and visionary insight can be seem here in this short clip.
Charlie Rose interviewed Octavia Butler in 2000 soon after the award of MacArthur Fellowship. Rose asked, “What then is central to what you want to say about race?”Butler’s response was, “Do I want to say something central about race? Aside from, ‘Hey we’re here!’?”
“We are a naturally hierarchical species,” she said. “When I say these things in my novels, sure I make up the aliens and all of that, but I don’t make up the essential human character.” Octavia began writing stories as a child and soon turned to science fiction, attracted by a genre whose limitless possibilities let her imagine absolutely anything.
In 1979, Butler had a career breakthrough with Kindred. The novel tells the story of an African-American woman who travels back in time to save a white slave owner—her own ancestor. In part, Butler drew some inspiration from her mother’s work. “I didn’t like seeing her go through back doors,” she once said, according to The New York Times. “If my mother hadn’t put up with all those humiliations, I wouldn’t have eaten very well or lived very comfortably. So I wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”
“When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read,” Ms. Butler told The New York Times in 2000. “The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
Steven Barnes another African American writer and his writer wife, Tananarive Due, knew Butler during her early writing days in Southern California. Barnes saw Butler’s confidence grow along with her reputation.
“Octavia was one of the purest writers I know,” Barnes recalled Sunday. “She put everything she had into her work – she was extraordinarily committed to the craft. Due added, “It is a cliche to say that she was too good a soul, but it’s true. What she really conveyed in her writing was the deep pain she felt about the injustices around her. All of it was a metaphor for war, poverty, power struggles and discrimination. All of that hurt her very deeply, but her gift was that she could use words for the pain and make the world better.”
Parable of the Sower(1993)
Parable of the Talents(1998)
Blood Child- Stories and Essays(1995)